Saturday Afternoons in Front of the Telly
by Jeff Stelling
Harper Sport, £15.99
Reviewed by Roger Titford
From WSC 270 August 2009
Not long ago I bought a remaindered copy of Barry Davies’ autobiography, Interesting, Very Interesting. “Toe-curling, very toe-curling” would have been more appropriate. Likewise, Jeff Stelling has drawn from the well of his own commentary for a title. In his case he confesses the pun on the Mansfield defender’s name was many months premeditated and this tells you all you need to know about his (or hopefully his ghost’s) style. But the truth is both Barry and Jeff are among my very favourite football broadcasters. Stelling has created in Soccer Saturday the only programme where I prefer the Sky offering to the BBC and he has used it as a platform to half-escape the backwater of satellite TV for Channel 4’s Countdown.
Soccer Saturday is rightly the hero of the first third of Jelleyman. I’m stunned that he is surprised at the success of a programme that is no more than the excited, continuous updating of football scores. It’s something I’d wanted from about the age of 11 – forget Eddie Waring and the 4.30 from Uttoxeter, just leave the Grandstand camera on the teleprinter (as it was then) all afternoon.
On air Stelling comes across as a statto savant, one of those people who gives the impression of effortlessly recalling Cowdenbeath’s goal difference as though it were the most natural thing in the world. Sadly he reveals he swots it all up in a motorway service station on the M3 every Friday morning. He gives the game away completely in a pastiche of a Shoot! interview when claiming his favourite books are the Rothmans from 1961 onwards. As any statto would know the series did not start until 1970 and changed its branding to Sky Sports in 2003.
The second third of Jelleyman is devoted to all the “characters” on the Soccer Saturday panel who I’ve always considered fairly run-of-the-mill ex-pros (Nicholas, Merson, Le Tissier etc). Stelling sees these guys as the real heroes of the programme but for me it’s the information I want. I watch Soccer Saturday but simultaneously I listen to local radio commentary and follow match threads online. Phil Thompson may be waving his arms around but who’s that bothered about listening to the minutiae of what’s happening at the Reebok or wherever? Anyway, do rest assured the panel are all great lads who enjoy lots of bets, banter and lager.
The final part alights on Jeff’s career as he stumbles light-heartedly from Radio Tees through the disasters of TV-am, BSB and Eurosport to the national institution of Countdown. As with Barry Davies there’s a long back-story to his rise and it’s very interesting too compared with the unexceptional froth in the middle of Jelleyman. Fast-paced, laddish and written to amuse (you can tell from the prolific use of the comic sans typeface) this is the story of a happy man doing a great job very well.